Posted by Rose Goldthorp

I am sure you have all been here and have your own ideas on this subject, fellow toilers, but, here, today, is just my penny’s worth regarding what Development Hell is, why it occurs, how to avoid it, and some small suggestions for success in collab writing.

Development Hell and How to Avoid ItThe producer is the one with the fork.

1) What IS Development Hell?

Development Hell is something I hear a lot about. What I hear from my friends and read about as well, is that projects sometimes get stuck.They go around and around and then frequently get nowhere, apparently.

The Dallas Buyer’s Club was stuck in Dev Hell for 21 years and the poor writer completely rewrote it ten times! Deadpool was stuck for fifteen years. There are others, too: Beetlejuice 2, Gambit, and Bill and Ted 3 have had similar journeys. There are different situations which apply, of course, and each of these can increase the chance of hell. The easiest situation for a writer is the one where just you are writing the script and showing it to friends, acquaintances, (e.g. on Stage 32), or family. You may, or may not accept their recommendations because you are completely free to do as you wish....this is an unpaid gig. Maybe, if it is you and a collaborating producer, you are happy to take the producer’s notes or happy to discuss creative differences of opinion.

Upon moving up the ladder, however, and receiving lucre for said writing, then, ‘no rewriting according to said notes’ equals ‘no lucre.’ Keeping with the ‘paying’ scenario, things get even stickier when the producer engages a script consultant as their notes. Working at the highest level: studios, you end up with the producer, the EP, the consultant,  and the development. executive’s notes, and then, there can be your co-writers....agh!

Development Hell and How to Avoid ItShe’s joking, right? A 42nd rewrite?


2) Why Hell Happens

Bad communication is one of the most common reasons, apparently, for a hold up. This is often due to insufficient chats with the producer/EP/Execs beforehand. It is much quicker to iron out differences in conversation early on than attempt to undo things afterwards. Also, it means that the writer doesn’t get so ratty because his laboured-over writing gets binned. Although written discussions can avoid scenarios like ‘talking at cross purposes,’ they take much longer and there is the info that’s gets ‘lost between the lines’ for want of facial and hand gestures, plus tone of voice.
Another obvious reason for development hell is the money running out. Most projects get backed financially at some level for development. This backing can be from a packaging company or a production company that handles packaging and production, with funds from an EP/studio, etc. This finance plug being pulled is the other big reason for development hell. Peter Jackson had this problem when Weinstein pulled out (look that one up for yourself!) of the development stage of Lord of the Rings and poor Jackson was up to his eyeballs in researching, writing, casting, initial location hunting, etc. Fortunately for the world of film, Jackson found New Line Cinema.

Development Hell and How to Avoid ItScene 8 without my clothes on?! Well you can get another lead, then.

3) How to Avoid Development Hell

1) KISS (keep it simple, stupid) absolutely applies here. The fewer people in the development chain, the less possibility of things going wrong. Most of this will be beyond the control of people in their early careers. You will just have to take whomever is involved. If your producer wants to pull a script consultant in, it’s her choice. But, if you are directing your own script, at least you will be on the same page with the draft one writer.

2) Have lots of creative chats to iron out all of your various visions beforehand. Your soaring, challenging sci-fi may be someone else’s horrific dystopia. Polish up your mediation skills, so as to grease the wheels of the inevitable disagreements between others on the team. Of course, you have to maintain your own GSOH (good sense of humor). You’ve got one, haven’t you? Good. You’ll need it.

3) Timetable your rewrites, schedule your milestones, agree your KPI’s (key performance indicators). If your producer does not do this, you do it. It will obviate possible future accusations of tardiness and give you something to point at when the producer asks why you haven’t effected the big battle scene recommended by the consultant for your adaptation of Mansfield Park.

4) Lastly, if you are the producer, and this is a micro/low budget, get a no-name director. It is well known that most development hells occur with big directors, especially if they are not the writers.


Development Hell and How to Avoid ItThe producer’s notes always disagreed with the consultants!

4) Succeeding with Collab Writers

Again, the main point here is to discuss visions together and to decide what to do about your differences. Marriages have foundered on this rock: beware. Thankfully, I am not married (yet) and am not planning on wedding a writer. Being a budding one myself, I am after a financier. One of the ‘hedge fund’ kidneys would do, to finance all of my wild and wonderful ideas :)
I do, however, co-write, and so, to stop us from killing each other, we have come up with a strategy whereby one writes and then passes a bunch of scenes to the other who then rewrites/edits. The party of the first part may not defend, justify, weep, or deny the supply of ginger nuts to the other regarding the editor’s role.

If possible, avoid intimate co-writing. One of you writes the first draft and then sends it to the producer, who sends it on to the consultant. The collab writer(s) then takes on the work of drafts, say 2-4, etc., working with the producer and consultant: not you.

So, be thankful that you are probably, as a Stage32 member, early on in your career and not a Hollywood writer. There are less people involved in your creative work and your career and high salary (what’s that?!) are not on the line every day. All that is needed is an agreed approach, both creatively and business-wise, and a good supply of ginger nuts.

Other posts by Rose Goldthorp:
The Anthology Feature: And Why You Should Get Involved With One
4 Solutions for No Budget Film Problems

The Anthology Feature Why Should You Get Involved In One

Rose Goldthorp ( is about to start her final year in
'Communications, with Film & TV' at the University of Auckland, NZ. She is a
company director of her own feature production company (
This forthcoming year (2019), Rose is making her features no. 4 & 5.

Rose is looking for film makers who want to work collaboratively with her, on her
feature project no. 5, "Middle Earth Uncovered" ( #projectmeu).
She is inviting film makers to make small bags of scenes, from her screenplay; film
composers to write / record one, or more songs using her lyrics; and other artists to
sell (when she has built her shop) their related trans-media products on her web sites.
Rose describes Project MEU on Vimeo at

Rose is a writer / director / PM / editor at the moment, of course, because her early films
are No Budget narrative features. She welcomes any and all approaches from similar mad minds.


Like this blog post? Please share it on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email etc) by using social media buttons at the top of the blog. Or post to your personal blog and anywhere else you feel appropriate. Thank you.

As always, we welcome thoughts and remarks on ANY of the content above in the Comments section below...


Dear Bradley: What Kind of Script Piques Studio Interest? [ & Other Filmmaking Questions]
Stage 32 Writers Meet with Producers, Managers, and Financiers in March
register for stage 32 Register / Log In